For many eBay sellers, inventory management is the bane of their existence. In fact, inventory management is viewed as one of the top ten headaches top ten headaches for people selling on eBay.
Customer complaints and problems that can be traced back to inventory management issues can tank an eBay seller’s reputation. And there’s nothing more vital to an eBay seller’s success than an outstanding reputation. Buyers are quick to leave negative feedback when it turns out that they’ve purchased an item that is out of stock, and sellers can get slammed with a transaction defect for creating a “bad shopping experience” for buyers. (Transactions cancelled by the seller due to an out-of-stock situation are counted as transaction defects.) This is serious business because a transaction defect rate that is too high can result in the loss of Top-Rated seller status, reduced visibility in eBay searches, or even suspension of a seller’s account.
Do you even know how much money you have tied up in inventory? Do you know what that comes to as a percentage of your sales? Having too much inventory in stock can be as much of a problem as having too little. Yet a surprising number of small and mid-size businesses either don’t track inventory at all or do so manually. There is little doubt that most eBay sellers would benefit greatly from better inventory management.
Inventory management needs vary greatly from one seller to the next. Someone selling only on eBay, with a limited number of items (most likely stored in a closet or garage), faces very different eBay inventory management challenges than those of a high-volume seller operating through multiple channels and dealing with a warehouse full of products or with drop shippers. Smaller sellers may find the inventory management capability built into eBay’s Seller Hub sufficient, but for other sellers it is woefully inadequate. Budget is also a consideration, and while there are some free, open-source inventory management solutions, others can be quite pricey.
Here are some of the needs that can be met by the more popular ecommerce solutions for eBay inventory management.
Sellers want to know exactly what they have in stock at all times to avoid being penalised for selling something they don’t have. The total for every item needs to be updated automatically with each transaction, subtracting items sold and adding items received from suppliers or returned by customers. Ideally, new stock is counted through barcode scanning.
Setting up labeled storage locations makes life much easier for high-volume sellers and any warehouse personnel by generating pick lists by aisle and bin location.
Some commercial solutions automatically select the warehouse to ship specific customer orders from and synchronise inventory so that sellers can tell how much of a particular item is available in a single warehouse or all warehouses if the item is stored in multiple locations. The ability to reroute an order to another warehouse for fulfillment if stock runs out is very effective in preventing overselling.
High-volume sellers and those who must deal with long lead times for procuring stock appreciate the ability of some commercial eBay inventory management solutions to issue low inventory alerts and generate purchase orders automatically based on past sales and sales projections. Automatic replenishment is highly effective in preventing out-of-stock and overselling situations.
Many eBay sellers operate more than one eBay store or also sell on Amazon or maintain their own online store on Shopify, Etsy, BigCommerce, or another ecommerce platform. If it’s hard managing inventory on eBay alone, imagine the challenges of managing inventory sold through multiple channels, especially when multiple warehouses or drop shippers are involved. Overselling can be a very real problem for multi-channel sellers. Most multi-channel inventory management solutions enable sellers to set a minimum quantity of an item that must be in stock to remain listed on each sales platform. When inventory drops lower than minimum quantity, the listing is removed automatically to prevent overselling.
Many online sellers, particularly multi-channel sellers, waste a lot of time jumping back and forth from one app to another, because no one system provides all of the functionality needed. Having a single ecommerce dashboard that syncs inventory across multiple sales channels not only saves time but also prevents costly errors. Commercial eBay inventory management programs that accommodate multiple sales and distribution channels automatically adjust inventory levels across all of them from a centralised hub.
Inventory management is more complicated for sellers who employ kitting and bundling as a sales strategy. Some ecommerce inventory management systems track inventory levels of the individual products that go into a kit as well as of the kits themselves.
Many eBay sellers want to be able to manage their eBay inventory from any location on any device with only an internet connection, which demands a cloud-based solution.
Sellers benefit greatly from the insights gained from reports that support analysis and decision-making. Many inventory management solutions permit sellers to slice and dice their sales and inventory data as they like to create customised reports, graphs, and charts.
There is intense competition among the leading vendors of ecommerce inventory management solutions, and their offerings in that category vary greatly in terms of scope and scale. Most of them integrate inventory management with order management and automated shipping tools. Some of the better known solutions are listed below (in alphabetical order):
This list gives you a good starting point for evaluating your options for establishing an eBay inventory management solution.
Before you rush out to acquire the latest and greatest inventory management software, know what you’re looking for. Identify the specific capabilities needed to support and grow your ecommerce business. For example, do you need the ability to generate or read barcodes? Do you need to manage inventory for sale through multiple channels? Is inventory forecasting a concern for you? What’s your budget?
Ease of integration is a key consideration in selecting an inventory management solution, and some vendor offerings are accredited by eBay for that very reason, because they’ve been proven to work well in the eBay universe. Take a look at online reviews and posts in ecommerce forums to get a sense of the challenges sellers have encountered in implementing specific solutions. If you’re not particularly adept when it comes to software, or your situation is particularly challenging, give strong consideration to ecommerce solution vendors that offer integration assistance. Some vendors also offer customisation services if there’s something specific you want your chosen solution to do for you beyond the usual functions.
There is no getting around the fact that human beings are error-prone. We make mistakes, especially when we’re under time pressure or lack reliable information for decision making. Today’s eBay sellers operate under the pressure of tight deadlines for order fulfillment and shipping, again running the risk of being penalised for creating bad shopping experiences—not only for overselling but for failing to get products into the hands of buyers in a timely fashion, which can easily happen if inventory management and control are inadequate.
While poor eBay inventory management can be a seller’s downfall, inventory management done well is a big contributor to an eBay seller’s success and profits. The automation of critical inventory management tasks eliminates many of the opportunities for human error that are present in manual processes, like mistakes in counting items in stock or in entering data into spreadsheets. The best eBay inventory management solutions make any seller’s business both more effective and more efficient.
Effectiveness is a matter of consistently meeting the requirements and expectations of both customers and eBay for delivering satisfying shopping experiences. Better inventory management may not provide protection against errors made by a carrier once an item has been shipped, but it does prevent overselling and it does help ensure that the right product goes out the door. Effective inventory management leads naturally to better customer service, better seller ratings, and increased revenues as a result of a great reputation and more repeat business from satisfied buyers.
Efficiency is a matter of making the best use of the seller’s own resources, namely time, money, labor, and the like. All of these can be optimised through implementation of an appropriate inventory management solution, resulting in significant savings and a better profit margin for the seller.
The less tangible but perhaps most important benefit of effective and efficient eBay inventory management is that it provides the accurate information and the breathing space for sellers to concentrate more on strategy and planning and less on operational details. Just imagine where you can take your eBay business if you had reliable information and the time to act on it.